What Is Kali Yuga?

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Kali Yuga Definition

Commonly understood as “the age of Kali,” Kali Yuga is a Sanskrit term in the Hindu tradition used to describe our current epoch.

Kali refers to the demon goddess Kali, whose name is derived from the word kala, meaning “black,” “death,” and also “time.” As such, Kali is known as the goddess of time, change, and destruction.

Yuga is derived from the word yuj (like the word yoga), meaning to join, unite, or connect. Here it means “age,” “generation,” or “period of time.”

a clock representing the hindu epochs including satya yuga, treta yuga, dwapara yuga, and kali yuga

Kali Yuga Deep Dive

What you may have heard is indeed true. We are, according to traditional Hindu cosmology, in the Kali yuga. The age of discord and darkness.

Many Hindu scriptures including various Puranas and the Mahabarata discuss the yugas – and our current yuga in particular.

Here’s how the yugas work:

The Yuga Cycle

4.32 billion solar years is 1 kalpa – a complete cycle of the creation and destruction of the universe. This is also one day of Brahma.

In one of these kalpas there are 1000 yuga cycles (called maha yugas or catur yugas).

Each yugas cycle lasts 4.32 million years.

The 4 Yugas In A Yuga Cycle

And each of these yuga cycles consists of 4 yugas:

  • Krta/Satya yuga –1,728,000 years
  • Treta yuga – 1,296,000 years
  • Dwapara yuga – 864,000 years
  • Kali yuga – 432,000 years.

Notice as the cycle progresses that each yuga reduces in length by one quarter. Likewise, morality and the material state of things in each yuga is said to reduce by one quarter.

Once Kali yuga is complete, the cycle starts again at Krta/Satya yuga.

The four yugas are sometimes represented by the Bull of Dharma, which in the beginning stands on four legs. The legs represent truth, compassion, austerity, and purity. By the time Kali yuga arrives, the bull stands on one leg only – the one that stands for truth.

It is said that the Kali yuga began when Krishna died, around 3102 BCE, and will end in 428, 899 CE.

In The Holy Science, Sri Yukteswar proposes an alternate model for the yugas with shorter cycles that places us near the beginning of Dwapara yuga.

goddess kali killing two men, representing kali yuga

Characteristics Of Kali Yuga

Some of the symptoms of the Kali yuga, according to the Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, and Linga Purana among others, are:

  • The prevalence of materialism and empirical thinking.
  • Famine, disease, overpopulation, and seasons that have gone awry.
  • Extreme animosity among people.
  • Rulers will cease promoting spirituality, and will be a danger to their own people, taxing them unfairly, stealing from them, lying, and feuding amongst themselves. This will cause mass migration. 
  • Law and justice will favor the powerful.
  • Religion and spiritual matters will be corrupted by fake gurus, superstition, and authority. Piety will dwindle, and people will instead be devoted to wealth. Religious pretense will be maintained solely for the sake of reputation.
  • Wealth and hypocrisy will signify good character.
  • The primary occupations will consist of stealing, lying, and needless violence. Success in business will depend on deception.
  • Talkativeness and boldness will be equated with truth and knowledge. The manipulation of words will be considered scholarly.
  • Men and women will live together based on superficial attraction, and wander from one partner to the next. A verbal agreement will be enough to constitute marriage.
  • People’s lifespans will shorten, along with their memories and physical stature.

While all of this seems dire, the scriptures are also clear about what to do about it.

a factory pumping out smoke into an orange sky

Kali Yuga In Your Life

According to the teachings, there’s a hack for living in the Kali yuga.

The Vishnu Puranas, among other scriptures, claim the solution is actually quite simple: recite or chant the name of the divine. The Maha Mantra is said to be especially potent during the Kali yuga

Likewise, the Srimad Bhagavatam explains:

“If a person hears about, glorifies, meditates upon, worships or simply offers great respect to the Supreme Lord, who is situated within the heart, the Lord will remove from his mind the contamination accumulated during many thousands of lifetimes.”

Krishna urges us to fix our minds on the divine, observe all things with equal vision, and understand that sensory perception is an illusion; temporary.

He tells us to bring our senses under control and see ourselves in everything – and everything in our selves.

This is the essence of yoga practice, encompassed in the Yoga Sutras, eight limbs, and other teachings.

Krishna also gives instructions for living in the Kali yuga that are reminiscent of Jesus’ words about being in the world but not of it.

“… You should not remain here on earth once I have abandoned this world. My dear devotee, you are sinless, but in Kali yuga, the people will be addicted to all types of sinful activities; therefore do not stay here.” Srimad Bhagavatam C. 11 ch. 7 t. 5.

In other words, you can be in it without being a part of it.

The self-realized person, Krishna says, can spontaneously transcend the material world of good and evil, “like an innocent child.”

Jesus, similarly, says in Matthew 18:3-4:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Free from material bondage. As uncontaminated as polished brass, and at peace in the abode of being.

The Kali yuga is not a curse. Arguably, many of the scriptures, traditions, and practices passed down through the ages are in response to it. No reason to be afraid then as it impels you to connect with something everlasting and divine on your yoga journey.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Hailing from the Yukon, Canada, David (B.A, M.A.) is a yoga teacher (200-hour therapeutic YTT) and long-time student and practitioner of various spiritual disciplines including vedanta and Islam.

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